Archive for the ‘Electives’ Category

Well it seems like the press has been beating down my door and begging for more!  Thank you for your compliments on my writing and for having confidence in me to continue.  I admit, I’ve been up against a writer’s block lately, but today I will attempt to scale that wall and the only way to do something is by starting with the first step.

I had a wonderful holiday weekend.  How about you?

Sunday morning Yim and I got up early, packed a picnic lunch and headed north to Butler County.  We hiked a 3 mile loop, Kildoo Trail, in McConnell’s Mill State Park before heading east to the South Shore of Lake Arthur in Moraine State Park.  There we laid our blanket in the grass and enjoyed deli sandwiches, cantaloupe, blueberries, strawberries, nectarines and sparkling mineral water.  After lunch we took the plunge into Lake Arthur and swam for a while.

Leaving the park we passed a sign next to an old barn and farm-house that read “Garage Sale”.  Woohoo!  Why not go to the first garage sale of the season in Butler County?  Yim found two roasters, sized large and medium, priced to sell separately.  He bargained for the set, the seller dropped her price and away we went with roasting pans perfect for the winter holidays or a family meal.  Zia will be envious!

On the drive home we took the secondary road through Zelienople and parked to take a stroll up and down their main drag.  Lucky us, we discovered the The Strand, which is where we will be next Friday night!

Back at home, Lord Mycol was finally rested from his hard work the night before and he was able to join us for our cookout.  We had grilled steaks and corn-on-the-cob.  There was no dessert because I’d been too tempted earlier and pulled over for a Dairy Queen dipped cone.  Sorry, Lord Mycol!

On Monday, having entirely enjoyed our Sunday, we got back down to business.  We pulled out the ladders, the scrapers, the wire brushes, the primer, the hammer and the screwdriver.  We put on our gloves and began to work.  One window and one door are scraped, cleaned and primed and ready for caulking.  Two other windows are now scraped and cleaned and ready for primer.  It was a good amount of work to accomplish before the thunderstorm shut us down.  No matter, though, as it was time to wash up and have an early dinner.  We had a lovely salad with our meal made with our homegrown lettuces and radishes, simply dressed with olive oil and salt; delicious!

What a fantastic weekend!  I am so excited about June, as I have a list of goals as long as I am tall to get started towards and the weather has promised to behave just the way I like it to.

What are your goals for the season?


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How to Re-Upholster a Chair

Sometimes you find yourself living in a house that you didn’t even know was yours.  What I mean by that is that one day your vision clears and you see clearly for the first time.  What you thought you liked you now realize is gauche and what you thought you had the strongest distaste for?  Well, now you are discovering just how clueless you were.  The stuff you hated before now appeals to you more than ever.  You finally get it!

So, go to the cellar and poke around.  There is something there left behind by someone years before you came along.  And for years now, instead of throwing it on the curbside for pick-up, you’ve just been shuffling it from one spot to another without much wonder for where it came from, who it belonged to, why it is still in the cellar, or what will become of it.  It is dirty, dusty, sooty even.  And it smells dank.

(I like the word ‘dank’.  Don’t you?  It’s tough and nasty at the same time.  We used to know a guy called ‘Dank’, short for his last name ‘Dankovitch’.  He was tall with a curly brown mop of hair like Magnum P.I.  And he was too tan and sported cut-off jean shorts!)

Bring it upstairs and let it breath for a minute.  Or a week.  Get to know it even though you don’t much want to touch it.  Consider it’s style.  Huh.  Who knew you were a fan of Danish Modern?

Now that you know its name and you are sure that you like it, it’s time to get down to business.  This is like furniture boot camp.  You have to break it down to its bare bones, strip it of everything it’s ever known before and then build it up again in a new and improved image.  This will be a chair that salutes you when you enter the room and then kindly offers you a seat.  Of course, if you are going to undress this thing, you’re going to have to touch it.  It’s dirty because it’s old and no one has cared for it in so many years, including you.  So grab what you need to deal with it and get to work. 

Now it’s time to shop around for some new clothes for this baby.  Get over to the fabric shop and buy fabric, cotton batting, upholstery tacks and foam.  If you are anything like me, don’t expect to re-upholster your chair in a day.  What takes so long?  Decisions, decisions, decisions.  The basic materials, the ones hidden from view, are easy.  But the fabric is ultimately the most important and after all the hard work you will put into rehabilitating this old piece, the last thing you want to discover when it is done is that you don’t really love the fabric you chose.  Or worse, you can’t stand to look at it, which means back to the cellar for this poor thing.  I shopped around for fabric on different occasions for about a month while the chair sat in my entry hall wearing its old clothes.  I spent countless moments staring at it, burning its image into my brain so that I could reference it at the fabric store.  And still I brought home the wrong material.  But this is why, even after you make a purchase, you don’t start re-upholstering on the spot.  Ever hear of sample swatches?  I draped that first material over the chair and walked past it, taking furtive glances from every angle, for a week or more before I accepted my awful faux pas.  Then back to the store it was, to make a return and shop some more.  Once you do settle on a fabric that is just right, you may begin.  You have my express consent and permission.

One of the main reasons why I challenged myself to this project and absolutely encourage it is because I do not support the consumerist lifestyle that has swallowed the country.  Gluttony is everywhere. What do you think becomes of all that old furniture?  Meanwhile, some folks on Earth, the very same planet that you and I live on, sit on the ground.  Shopping for new furniture is sometimes a must and the old stuff sometimes has no proper place anymore but the landfill.  Just consider, there are many resources where you can find older models in top structural form at fractions of the cost of new furniture.  You could buy a timeless piece at a garage sale or the Goodwill.  You would still be contributing to the economy, especially once you purchase your tools and materials.  But you would be cutting back on pollution;  less landfill and no contribution to a modern manufacturing warehouse.  You will develop a new skill and have a story to tell.

So, back to the chair.  If you’ve paid close attention to how things were originally put together when you were disassembling the chair, you should have no problem re-assembling it with the new materials.  I used an electric carving knife to cut my foam (which I didn’t get a picture of, but it is firm and green) into the appropriate sizes for the back and seat.  I wrapped cotton batting over the foam and tightly around both the back and the seat and used a staple gun to secure the batting along the back of the wooden frame.  Tightness is very important here.

Important tip:  Use the old fabric pieces as templates to cut your new fabric, with about 2-3 inches extra.  Remember, everything must be pulled as tightly as you can manage.  I’d never upholstered or re-upholstered anything before, so I just used my good judgement and skillful fingers to create the appropriate folds along the corners of the chair.  Even when I pulled and folded as tightly as I could, I could not match the skill of the original, which was obviously done in a shop.  Still, I managed a fairly good job and I don’t think anyone would interrogate this chair on suspicion of loose folds!

The most difficult challenge was getting the armrests back on after the chair was re-upholstered.  I’d failed to mark exactly where they were and cut slits through the cotton batting for the bolts.  For lack of a professional method, I used a penknife to cut x’s where the bolts would go in and relied on the bolt to tighten up on the edges of the hole to prevent the fabric from tearing away or fraying.  It actually worked quite well so leave your skepticism at the door!


And now, just for fun, you can search for the perfect adornment, sort of like a new pair of earrings.  Ten-hut!

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Pick Me Up

Two weeks ago I made strawberry tiramisu for Zia’s birthday.  Click the link for the recipe.  It tasted great and I didn’t use any high fructose corn syrup!  Here’s how it looked . . .

The plastic forks were used to hold the plastic wrap above the strawberries.

I know one person who is salivating enviously, but I shall not name any names!  If you think you are the one, let me know in comments and if you are right, I’ll confirm.   😉

Then, for Lord Mycol’s birthday, I made a lemon cloud tart with blackberry compote.

I’ve always loved making desserts.  In fact, I learned to bake before I learned to cook, however, neither of the desserts shown here require any baking!

Maybe you made something yummy for your mummy today?  I hope so!

Happy Mother’s Day to all of the dedicated moms in the world today!

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There is no love sincerer than the love of food. — Shaw

Yim and I talk about food a lot.  After all, he is the Food Vigilante.  We talk about the foods we love, the foods we are growing, the foods we grew up eating, and the junk we see people consuming everyday.  We talk about the home cooked meals we were raised on, prepared by frugal mothers with cooking skills.  There was no microwave in our kitchen.  We talk about the slender stature of nearly everyone when we were young, particularly the men.  In all of the old photos, the men were skinny relative to today’s standard male.  Today, I can sit on a park bench and watch the masses go by and wonder at their health.  They hobble along, lumbering on their swollen ankles.  They smoke with one hand and drink a 12 ounce can of corn syrup with the other.  Their bellies lead the way and there is no baby due.

These days, I feel lucky to have been raised by a family with farming sense.  For them, farming sense translated to food sense, which translates to health.  And though health is the ultimate objective, the bonus is that whole foods taste so much better than anything you could possible concoct in a laboratory, and they are a pleasure to work with.  You just have to learn how to prepare them, because it’s not as simple as peeling the top off of a Styrofoam bowl, adding water and popping it in the microwave for 3 minutes.  I happen to love the process of cooking from beginning to end.  When I am in the kitchen cooking, I always consider how wonderful the colors of the vegetables are (that’s my sense of vision kicking in).  I consider how everything feels; the weight of the vegetables or fruit, the grains of rice, the dry beans, the fleshy meat or fish.  Whatever it is, I consider the feel of it (there’s my sense of touch).  I consider the smell; the crisp smell of a cucumber or bell pepper when you slice it, the pungency of an onion, the oils released from the garlic.  All of my senses begin to engage and prepare my body to eat and absorb everything it can in the way of nutrition from these whole foods that are from the same planet as I am from.  Unfortunately, for people who don’t cook, life can find a way even when it’s fed on junk.  Furthermore, it seems that the body adapts to whatever it is fed regularly and begins to send warning signals to the brain when changes are detected by the senses.  For instance, so many children have become picky eaters because their brains go haywire when healthy food is placed on the tongue.  You can see the repulsion on their little faces.  They don’t know what to do besides cry and spit – surely they won’t swallow – because their receptors are getting high on vitamins and minerals absorbed through the tongue and it’s a shock to the system every time because they are accustomed to eating melted cardboard for dinner.  Seriously, try putting cardboard in their mouths and you’ll get no reaction.  So these picky eaters potentially become adults – some you may know – who refuse to eat anything different.  Green vegetables?  NO WAY!  Nothing green other than iceberg lettuce.  Medium rare steak?  You must be nuts; they want it burnt.  Sushi?  What are you, crazy?  Listen, folks; I have tasted green vegetables and they are better than corn!  I have had my steak both well-done and medium rare and guess what?  Medium rare is a lot tastier, not to mention easier to chew.  And sushi?  Sushi tastes less like fish than cooked fish!  It is fresh and clean tasting.  Could 128 million Japanese people be wong?  I mean, wrong?  Why wouldn’t you try it?

In light of these sentiments and in the style of the Pioneer Woman, I’d like to share with you a series of photos I took while cooking dinner the other night.  This is typical of the meals I like, which is to say that they nearly always involve chopped vegetables sautéed in olive oil.  I only cook with First Cold Press Extra Virgin Olive Oil and I use onions and garlic in almost every dish.

This meal started with these organic chicken sausages that were in my refrigerator.  I’d gotten them on sale, because otherwise they are too damn expensive, and realized at the last minute that day that they were still in my refrigerator and needed to be used or thrown out.

I decided to make a sausage, onion and pepper saute, which I would then serve with red beans and rice.  Yim and I had the best red beans and rice in Puerto Rico and have made them frequently since that trip.

Preparing the red beans (kidney beans) and rice was a little more detailed.  First, since I didn’t do an overnight soak for these dry beans, I had to bring them to a boil and simmer them for almost 2 hours.

I chopped up about 5 pieces of bacon and started it in a cold pan.

Once the bacon was crispy and the fat had been rendered, I threw in chopped onions, garlic and red bell pepper.

I mixed the spices; salt, cumin, and Spanish smoked paprika, with bay leaves and tomato paste.  ZP brought this tube of tomato paste from Italy for me, so don’t try to find it at the Piggly Wiggly.  Those bay leaves are also from Italy, but you can get them anywhere.

Somehow I missed the shot of the spices and the brown rice added to the saute pan, but that is what I did.  I let it cook for a few minutes and then added hot water.  I brought it to a boil, then reduced to a simmer and covered to cook for about an hour and a half.  The brown rice takes a bit longer than the white.  The point is just to get all of the liquid absorbed.

And voila!  Dinner is served and it is made entirely from fresh, whole, nutritious ingredients.  I hope that I have inspired you to eat better, cook from scratch more often and to try new things.

The discovery of a new dish does more for the happiness of man than the discovery of a star. — Brillat-Savarin

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Hey Son . . .

Lord Mycol got a new job and he’s lookin’ spiffy!

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Custom Header

Somebody wants to know . . . “Where did you get the picture of the garden in your header?”

Well, I shot it!  I have a Nikon D-40 and I took that picture at Phipps Conservatory.  I use my own photos in my header.  If for some reason I use the default header, I will say so.

I play around with my camera but it is still way beyond me.  Still, I mean to get a telephoto lens for it so that I can take shots from afar.

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As I mentioned, Tuesday was the absolute high to my low.  Yim and I are so excited about our garden and we accomplished a load of work on the land on Tuesday.  We arrived at ‘the farm’ around 10 am and got to work.  It is incredibly invigorating to feel the sweat on your brow as you labor with the land.  Yim cleaned the gutters, mowed the lawn, cut back the forsythia, mulched and put chicken wire up around the garden to prohibit bunny rabbits.  I cleared a second planting area of approximately 3 1/2 x 15 feet, pruned the rose bush, and hauled 4 wheel barrow loads full of kindling, compost, and burnable stuff around back of the property.  We are making good progress.  Every crop we’ve sown so far has sprouted.

Our onions:

Our shallots:

Our Swiss chard:

Our lettuce:

Look how big our radishes have gotten; they should be ready to harvest in 1 to 2 weeks:

As we worked in the garden, a Red-bellied woodpecker had lunch in a neighboring tree.

When I get a new telephoto lens for my camera I’ll be able to get shots like this one in real clarity.

We bought an old olive barrel from DeLallo’s to use as a rain-catcher.  Yimmy is going to outfit it with a spigot.

The garden is in stage one of protection against predators:

We still have to stake down the wire so that rabbits can’t get in underneath of it.  Then we will drape netting over the top to protect the sprouts from birds and squirrels.

The day was beautiful and had both of our minds reeling around future projects; painting, landscaping, etc.

As I cleared the new planting area, the smell of wild mint and purple lilacs in full bloom filled the air.

Towards evening we stowed the gardening tools and got some small scale jobs out of the way.  We had tomato seeds to sow in indoor peat moss cells,

and a friend asked me to sow some extra hot pepper seeds for her.  She gave me these:

I was extra careful to wash my hands thoroughly after handling these.  Even so, I managed to get some of their oils on my upper lip and felt the deep burn of their heat.

I got some help getting them planted:

And now all of our indoor seeds are set:

By July we should be regularly enjoying the fruits of all our labor and the hard work we put in will bring us happiness all over again.

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